Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is a next-generation space capsule created to carry humans and scientific research to and from low-Earth orbit, including the International Space Station. "A livestream of the Starliner Pad Abort Test is something we've been considering and planning for and are fully prepared to support at the request of our customer", Boeing's Rebecca Regan told Ars.
At 9:15 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time (1415 GMT), the five-meter, cone-like vehicle in the launch position on White Sands Missile Range in the U.S. state of New Mexico had its four launch abort engines ignited, showed the NASA live broadcast. During the test, Starliner will gain almost 1,300 meters in altitude and fly around 1,600 meters in distance away from the launch site.
Finally, the Starliner's service module separated from the crew module and the latter touched down with a cushion of inflated airbags about a mile north of the test stand, approximately 90 seconds after the launch, according to NASA. Although the spacecraft experienced a "deployment anomaly" which caused only two of the three main parachutes to open, NASA and Boeing reported that the vehicle's performance fell within the range of acceptable test and crew safety parameters. The launch for that test is set for December 17 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Since the end of the US Space Shuttle program in 2011 only the Russians with their Soyuz system have had the capacity to travel from the Earth to the ISS. Boeing then worked on recovering the capsule and analyzed data from the test.
The launch abort engines would only be used in an actual low- to mid-altitude abort while the OMAC engines would normally be used to complete the spacecraft's trip to orbit after separation from its Atlas 5 second stage. Like similar tests, the New Mexico dry run will verify whether the vessel can safely jettison itself (and importantly, astronauts) away from its host rocket if there's an emergency before liftoff.
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The capsule soared almost a mile (1,300 meters) into the air and a mile downrange, before the parachutes and then air bags inflated seconds before touchdown.
This is an an artist's conception of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner. The issue should not delay the next test flight, company officials noted.
It is all to make sure astronauts are safe when they eventually launch on Starliner. The Starliner will be the first US crew capsule to return from orbit to solid ground.
"It's starting to feel really close", said NASA astronaut Nicole Mann, who will be on that first crew.
Like Boeing, SpaceX is aiming to fly its first crew to the International Space Station early next year. Northrop Grumman's Cygnus capsule arrived at the orbiting lab on Monday with a fresh delivery, the company's 12th.